The teaser for A Most Violent Year was a promising little thing, but the brand-new trailer is even more enticing, featuring Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain as a loving couple trying to walk the straight-and-narrow path as they run a business in 1981 New York, only to find that the pervasive crime and corruption of the era may necessitate getting their hands dirty. It looks to be a full meal of gangster-movie goodness — and a very different meal dish than most of what’s being served up this Oscar season.
Don’t be dissuaded by the bloody-sounding title, director J.C. Chandor told Vulture last week. “This is not going to be a gorefest,” he said. “This is about characters who are trying to run a business and raise a family during a period in New York’s history that was tragic. From a statistical standpoint, it was pretty much the most violent year on record.” That it may have been, but after taking a look at Chastain’s deliciously fierce performance in this trailer, we’d put slim odds on any criminal who dared to go up against her. Laughed Chandor, “She’s a tough cookie, I’ll give her that.”
As it happens, Chastain and Isaac have a long association with each other, though this is the first time they’ve starred in a film together: They both went to Juilliard, and Chastain suggested her former schoolmate to Chandor when all three of them were in Cannes together last summer. Chandor, who was at the festival presenting his Robert Redford film All Is Lost, had just flown there from Spain after a fruitless, months-long wooing of Javier Bardem to take the movie’s lead; after he delivered the bad news to Chastain, she had an a-ha moment.
“She said, ‘Well, that’s a funny thing,’” recalled Chandor, “‘because there’s this guy I went to drama school with, his mom is Guatemalan and his dad is Cuban, and he grew up in Miami, and he’s built this unbelievably respectable career, and he just so happens to be here at Cannes starring in the Coen brothers’ new movie!’ And the next thing I know, I meet Oscar, who essentially is the character I’ve written.”
The Inside Llewyn Davis star immediately clicked with Chandor — and unlike Bardem, who “wanted the script to be far more black and white,” Isaac was thrilled with his character’s ambiguities. It helped, too, that he had such a compelling, real-life backstory with Chastain. “From the first day they walked on set, they had this unbelievable chemistry,” said Chandor. “We even worked out that these two characters would have met each other 15 years before the movie takes place, which is exactly when Oscar and Jessica first met.” Consider this trailer a taste of that chemistry, then, with more to come soon: A Most Violent Year premieres this week at the AFI Film Festival in advance of its opening December 31.